Georgetown University students just voted for a creative way to atone for their school’s history of slavery

The impact of slavery continues to echo throughout the United States well into the 21st century. Pervasive structural racism affects black communities in both obvious and subtle ways, but especially in continuing to create wealth and opportunity disparities for many black Americans. However, the students of Georgetown University (which has a documented history of selling slaves) have come up with a creative solution to help right the wrongs of the past.

According to The Washington Postin 1838, Maryland Jesuits sold 272 slaves to pay off the university’s debt. On April 11th, students overwhelmingly voted to pass a resolution that would increase tuition by $27.20 each semester. The money raised would go to help the descendants of those sold in 1838. And while $27.20 may not seem like a lot, it would raise about $400,000 within the first year alone.

About two-thirds of Georgetown undergraduates voted in favor of the proposition.

ABC News notes that descendants of the 272 slaves are considered legacy students at Georgetown, and there are four such students currently enrolled in the university. One, sophomore Melisande Short-Colomb, was among the students advocating for the resolution to pass.

"No one in this room was here in 1838 when this happened," she said at a town hall to discuss the measure, per ABC. "But we have a chance today to make a difference, so I'm going to pay my $54."

However, voting on the resolution was just the beginning. According to The New York Timesthe referendum was student-led and non-binding, meaning that university officials will have to take action to implement the policy.

"We value the engagement of our students and appreciate that they are making their voices heard and contributing to an important national conversation," Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs, told The Times in a statement.

The Times notes that the university previously apologized for its connection to the slave trade, and has renamed a building after one of the slaves who was sold.

Ultimately, Georgetown’s reparations measure can’t undo the past or make everything right, but it would serve as an important step toward equality. We’ll be looking to see how this resolution plays out, and we hope to see other institutions follow suit.

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